Building the house of the lord

Readings for Proper 11B

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The lectionary this summer takes us on a tour of the book of Ephesians over 7 weeks

Six chapters which means you can read 1 chapter for each of the next weeks and finish the book together

This is one of the great benefits of the common lectionary

  • You have these sequential passages
  • We are all reading them together – the same day

In each of our three churches this passage will have been read and reflected upon this morning

That fits with the theme of Ephesians because it is all about the Church as the means of uniting different people as the body of Christ

You may feel that is somewhat ironic given the tendency of the Church to fragment

  • Catholics and protestants
  • Greek and Russian orthodox
  • Methodists, Baptists
  • Copts, Armenians
  • Quakers, Shakers
  • Pentecostal, Baptist, Anabaptist
  • Presbyterian, Lutheran, free church

the list goes on …

Indeed, the unity of the church may already have been an issue when Ephesians was written – as most scholars believe towards the end of the first century as a kind of reworking of Colossians but with the church rather than Christ himself as the means of unity

Turning to scripture

The first chapter of Ephesians was almost all one single long, poetic sentence

We are special people – the blessed – the children of God – God has a plan and that the revelation of the love of God in Jesus Christ is the culmination of that plan

As a result, we have been marked out – sealed – with the holy spirit (baptism)

Our passage today is the second half of the second chapter

In  what is missed out, the writer has prayed for us – that we would have the spirit of wisdom as we come to know God more and more

And introduces the image of the church as the body of Christ

Chapter 2 begins with an exploration of how far we were from God before the gracious love of Christ

We were divided from God and divided from one another

This is the theme of our passage for today

We were divided from the Jews by the law and both Jews and gentiles were divided from God by sin

Jesus has broken through that barrier – just as the veil of the temple was torn in two at his death (Mk 15:38)

To mark this change – this move from a position of peril to safety, the writer uses the image of a house, a household into which we are all drawn, all safe

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

This is an image which is full of significance in the bible

  • The house of David
  • Bethel – the house of the Lord
  • Bethlehem – The house of bread – think of that

A house is built of many parts – and all are important in the construction – the bricks, the timbers, the slates, the doors and windows:  many materials, many shapes are required, each playing their part

But the most important part is the plan, the drawing, the vision on which it is all based

In the ancient world a structure was built by reference to the first block which was laid – the cornerstone – selected for its size and shape.  The first laid block was of such importance that a sacrifice was often made and placed under it.

Not surprising then that Christ should be seen as the Cornerstone – both the reference point but also the sacrifice

the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone

Does that sound familiar?  It should – it is a repeated theme in the bible (Ps 118:22, Mat 21:42 , Acts 4:11)

the stone that the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone and it is marvellous in our eyes

 

Divisions are normal because we are all different – it is in the nature of humanity to divide into groups – sub-speciation – and it is good in a way because it is how we develop most quickly, through competition

But it can be dangerous and can blind us to the fact that we are much more similar than we might imagine

In my other life I was with a geneticist last week discussing this and it seems that even the most divergent of humans are 99.9% identical with one another

Moreover, we are 98% the same as chimpanzees – some more so than others

Thinking about our pets’ service this pm, we are

84% same as dogs

80% same as cows

75% same as a mouse

60% same as a Fruit fly

50% same as a Banana

So if you don’t have a pet you can bring a banana to the service

 

The brilliance of this image of the cornerstone is that the plan for the building is the thing which unites all its constituent parts and materials into a single whole – the cornerstone physically and intellectually unites everything – it is our common DNA

How does this work in the real world rather than the metaphorical?

We have divisions – how do we overcome them?

Take as an example the familiar scenario of lanes merging on the M25

  • The traffic slows to a standstill as drivers refuse to let others in
  • Only when someone gives in and let’s another in ahead of the can the traffic

Reconciliation begins with Sacrifice – someone has to be the bigger person and let another go ahead

  • Apologising and forgiving are both forms of sacrifice
  • When we apologise we lose face – we humble ourselves and beg for forgiveness
  • When we forgive – we give

 

In all of this Christ is our model – the plan, the cornerstone for our lives

Relationships are forged by sacrifice – like the sacrifice which underlay the cornerstone, like the sacrifice which saw an innocent man hanging from a cross

When we come together, divisions are healed  – we are made whole

This is possible through the love of God as exemplified in Christ Jesus

In the Mark reading we see how the healing power of God works through Jesus to heal all those who come to him

We celebrate that union with one another and through Christ when we come together on a Sunday

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

In words from our reading which fit in our Sunday liturgy

  1. when we share the peace

We are the body of Christ in the one spirit we were all baptised into one body

2. When we share in his body and his blood in the eucharist

The ultimate act of unity, of sacrifice and of forgiveness

At the end of the communion, in the prayer of thanksgiving  we give thanks in words taken from this letter

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off

Father of all,
we give you thanks and praise
that when we were still far off
you met us in your Son and brought us home.
Dying and living, he declared your love,
gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
we who drink his cup bring life to others;
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.

As we line up at the altar rail and take the body of Christ, the cornerstone, into our bodies and into our lives so may we become a dwelling place for God – through living together, recognising difference, making acts of sacrificial love

In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

Amen.

 

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Peter’s, Walton-on-the- Hill, 22nd July, 2018

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2 Responses to Building the house of the lord

  1. Howard Bluett says:

    Thanks. You never fail to impress. Great scholarship, sound theology and important practical -down to earth – message.

    Blessings

    Howard

    >

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